$357k funding progresses US lithium-ion battery recycling initiative

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Team Portables, a consortium for lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) recycling incentivization, has received Phase II funding from the US Department of Energy’s (DoE) Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Prize. The initiative “Closing the loop on portable lithium-ion batteries” aims to help the DoE capture 90% of all discarded or spent lithium-based batteries in the US for eventual recovery of key materials for a sustainable re-introduction into the supply chain.

The collaboration between Everledger, HP, Call2Recycle and Fairphone will use the $357,000 cash prize to develop a prototype app called Reward to Recycle, where consumers can learn how to earn a reward from contributing partners for recycling their portable LIBs, as well as keep a register of their rewards. LIBs are commonly found in smartphones, laptops, tablets or cordless power tools.

How does it work?
Digital transparency company Everledger is developing and testing the app, which establishes a Battery Passport to track portable LIBs and support final recycling. The Battery Passport can be accessed by IOT identifiers as part of the labeling for each LIB. Using their smartphone, registered users will be able to find out more about recycling and actively earn rewards for doing so.

The full end-to-end solution will involve the program sponsorship by the DoE, with participation from HP, Fairphone and other manufacturers of LIB-powered products, Call2Recycle and other collectors and sorters in the recycling chain, and the incentivization of end consumers. The program will explore and introduce new and proven incentive models to attract consumer participation and CSR initiatives from the industry.

Consumers will be motivated to get their batteries to a qualified collection centre. Consumers can also interact with the application in other ways to learn more about sustainability, find their closest recycling centres, and even track their batteries from collection to recycling, as well as view their own sustainability footprint.

The ambition of the solution is to optimize the circularity of LIB raw materials, prevent disposal of hazardous materials as well as reward consumers and support the industry to foster corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability initiatives.

While the scheme aims to digitally-enable new products, it also aims to tackle the billions of LIBs already approaching end of life.

Valuable resource or ticking time bomb?
Lauren Roman, Everledger’s Business Development Director for Metals & Minerals Ecosystems, explained why LIBs in portable electronics are too often disposed of rather than recycled: “First, many products containing LIBs are not marked, so unknowing consumers throw them in the trash when no longer useful. Second, aside from doing the right thing, there is no incentive for consumers to recycle and it requires effort. This new platform can provide consumers with complete information on where to recycle these products and get rewarded for doing so.”

Patrick Gibbs, Environmental Programs Manager (NA) for HP, commented: “HP Inc. is committed to practices that enable positive outcomes for the planet, people and communities where we do business. This approach allows us to take the concept into the community and really start the behaviour change that’s needed to stop the unsustainable disposal of lithium-ion batteries.”

Eva Gouwens, CEO of Fairphone, a smartphone manufacturer that is piloting batteries with a QR code smart label in this project, welcomed the announcement. “Aside from the environmental and cost benefits of recycling, safe collection of LIBs will reduce the growing occurrence of fires and environmental damage caused by disposal through household and business garbage. Our goal is to help people understand how their purchasing preferences and behavior impact the supply chains for electronics and batteries. This knowledge will further grow the demand for sustainable products and materials.”

Leo Raudys, CEO & President of Call2Recycle, the battery stewardship and recycling partner with an established network of collection boxes in retailers throughout North America, added: “We all have surplus batteries that lie forgotten in the back of drawers, closets, toolboxes and garages. Yet, we never think about recycling them. That needs to change. With this new app, consumers will be contributing to the circular economy – allowing materials from batteries to be recovered and reused in the manufacturing of new products – while also minimizing their environmental impact. This prize provides the various methods and new incentives to recycle their batteries.”

Everledger Founder and CEO Leanne Kemp commented: “The strength of this solution is the deep partnership between all links in the recycling chain, from government to end consumer. That’s the key to driving more sustainability in the electronics value chain, moving it from natural mining to what I call ‘urban mining’ – making sure all our existing appliances will be reutilised and power the next generation of gadgets, sustainably and economically.”